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Growing Pains

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No one has ever asked him why he became a Marine. Most of the time, they just assume he's following in his father's footsteps; after all, no one can be this dedicated without having to prove himself to his old man, right?

He once overheard some probie talking to Tony about him. The kid had been taking a summer psych course at UVA, he remembers, and had felt the need to share that he felt that 'Gibbs really does have some unresolved issues with his father.'

Gibbs had walked around the corner then, and tried not to growl at the kid too harshly. He failed, of course. "If you're just about done analyzing me, you think you could go back to work?"

His becoming a Marine had everything to do with his father. Not that he'd admit it to anyone, though. If they want to think he's just making his father proud, so be it.

Tony had shown up at his house later that night, claiming to have a question about the case that couldn't wait until morning. The file stayed on the kitchen table, and they ended up in the basement. Tony's hands were around a chipped coffee mug, and Gibbs was wrist deep in wood shavings before either of them spoke.

"So, why did you join the service, Gibbs?" It occurs to Tony that he's never asked Gibbs this question. They've worked together for nearly seven years, and have been friends for more than half that time. Tony has never really wondered about Gibbs' past, because he didn't want to intrude on the older man's privacy. Now, watching Gibbs stare down at the sawdust covering his boots, Tony thinks he should have asked this question much earlier.

The full answer had been on the tip of Gibbs' tongue, and he reached for the mug, using the warm liquid inside to wash it away.

"I wanted to do some good, Tony. Simple as that." The strong, bitter coffee does nothing to quell the sour taste of the lie.

Tony nods slowly, and leans back against the workbench. "Why are you lying to me about this?"

"I'm not lying."

"Mm-hmm."

~~~~~

"Hey, Mom, I'm home!" He dropped his backpack in its place by the door, realizing that the house was silent. That was weird; his mom always kept a radio on somewhere in the house. She said it helped keep her company.

"Mom?"

He knocked on the bedroom door and waited, because his mother always told him that was the polite thing to do, instead of just barging in. "Mom, are you in there?"

After a couple of minutes with no response, he decided to just go in anyways. She's probably still feeling crappy from the other day, so she's taking a nap. I'll just open the door real slow, see if she's there, and then go make something for dinner. If she's sick, she won't want to cook.

He pushed open the door, and found the room empty, the bed neatly made. Huh, that's weird. Mom's gotta be here someplace...

"Sweetheart, is that you?" His mother's voice, coming from the bathroom. He hadn't paid any attention to the closed bathroom door; the wind always caused it to slam shut if the window was left open. They usually just left it that way.

"Yes, it's me."

"I thought you were spending the night at Ben's house. You said you were going to camp in his backyard." His mom's voice is coming from just on the other side of the door, and he's confused why she won't just come out and speak to him face to face.

"I am. But I forgot some stuff, so I came back."

"Oh, okay." There's a little tremble in her voice, like she's been crying, maybe. He doesn't like it.

"Um, Mom, are you gonna be long in there? 'Cause I gotta pee."

His mom emerges from the bathroom then, and he sees why she was so reluctant to leave in the first place. The right side of her face is red, beginning to swell in spite of the towel full of ice held against her skin. Her lip is split, blood already crusting it over, and around her eye is well on its way to turning purple and black.

He says the first thing that comes to mind. "Holy shit, Mom."

"Don't swear."

"I'm sorry. But, your face-" Looks like you just went three rounds with Cassius Clay.

"It's...it's fine."

"Don't lie."

"It's not as bad as it looks, really."

He follows his mother into the living room, and tries his best not to notice the stiff, careful way she holds herself. "Dad's gone down to the bar?"

His mother shakes her head slowly, and sits down on the couch. "I don't know. Probably."

"Good. I'm going to go call Ben, tell him that I can't spend the night tonight."

"No, you should go. Really, go have fun."

And leave you here alone until Dad comes home plastered and pissed at 3am? Yeah, right. Good one, Mom. "I'm staying here."

She sighs and shakes her head a little. It makes him sad, because he can pretty much tell what she's thinking.

Yeah, Mom, I guess I am just as stubborn as Dad is. But he's the one who made your face look like that, not me.

"Mom?"

He waits until she looks up at him. When she does, she looks very tired. "I'm not going to let him hurt you again."

"I know, baby." She doesn't sound convinced, of course; it's just what you say to placate your son, when he tries to act like a man.

Later, after he calls Ben to apologize, he heats up some soup and takes it to her. She thanks him, but when she starts to tell him once more that he really should spend the night at Ben's, he stands up and faces her.

"No, Mom, I'm not going to Ben's tonight, I'm staying here. Eat your soup, please."

He spends the night sitting in the living room, trying stay awake. He fails, of course, dozing off several times only to jerk awake a short time later with fear wrapped around his chest, and his hand wrapped around the baseball bat he dug out of his closet.

By the time his father stumbles into the house, just after lunch, he has finally convinced his mother that today is The Day, and she has called his aunt upstate, asking if they can stay for a few weeks. She's throwing clothes into a suitcase when her husband makes his way to the bedroom.

"What the hell is going on?"

To her credit, she doesn't flinch. "I'm knitting you a sweater, what does it look like?"

His father, luckily, is out of arm's reach, and too hungover to react. He just stands in the doorway and watches sweaters get shoved into a suitcase on the bed.

"If you ever come near us again, I'll hurt you." He keeps one eye on his father and the other on his baseball bat. He's pretty sure he could grab for it and swing, if he has to. He hopes it won't come to that, but he likes knowing that he could.

His father laughs. "Yeah? I'm glad you think so, little boy."

His hand is around the bat before he really knows what he's doing, and he has it held high, swinging it hard, before either of his parents realize it.

If his father had been standing upright, instead of leaning drunkenly against the doorframe, he probably would have missed completely, or only grazed his father's arm.

The impact causes shockwaves to run all the way up both his arms, and he swears he can feel his teeth chatter. Beyond that, there is the sound of his father crumpling to the ground, and then silence.

His mother gasps. After a moment of staring at her husband, sprawled limply on the carpet, she looks up at her son. There's something different about the look in her eye, but he can't place it.

"Put that down. We're leaving in 10 minutes, okay?"

He isn't sure what to say, so he sets the bat down on the farthest corner of the bed, and goes to pack.